Although The Perks of Being a Wallflower doesn’t open in wide release until September 16, an advance screening in Chicago on August 26 proved that all the buzz surrounding the film is well-earned. Writer/director Stephen Chbosky (who also penned the seminal novel in 1999) was on hand to answer questions and wax nostalgic about the rewarding process of translating his ’90s teen classic to the big screen–especially in regards to its place in the pop culture zeitgeist.
Because the healing and transformative power of music is one of the book’s major themes, Chbosky hand-picked all of the songs for the Perks movie soundtrack. The song selection was so important to Chbosky, in fact, that a huge chunk of the films’ budget went to acquiring the rights to music from such big-name artists as Sonic Youth, the Smiths, and David Bowie.
In the album’s liner- notes, Chbosky writes:
“Over many years, I have collected songs. I’ve shared them with friends. And they have shared their favorites with me. Some of the songs are popular. Some of them are not known by a whole lot of people. But they are all great in their own way. And since these songs have meant a lot to me, I just wanted you to have them as a soundtrack for whatever you need them to be for your life.”
Chbosky’s soundtrack is a pleasant change from the precious indie rock that plagues most young adult films today. While super-Perks fans might be miffed that many songs from the book did not end up in the movie (including Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and several tracks from the Beatles), the music still rings true to the spirit of Chbosky’s original work. Just as the pangs of adolescence can be brutal and tender in almost the same breath, the soundtrack to Perks is an awkwardly beautiful representation of Generation Y.
The titular “wallflower” of page and screen is Charlie (Logan Lerman), a high school freshman who would rather play cassette tapes in his room than socialize on campus. Still haunted by the recent suicide of his best friend and the ghosts of his own childhood trauma, Charlie struggles to connect with others–until he is taken in by a merry band of outsiders that include flamboyant exhibitionist Patrick (Ezra Miller) and his alluring half-sister Sam (Emma Watson). Together they navigate through several teen rites of passage–from first kiss to first sexual encounter to first drug overdose–with their shared love of alt-rock serving as their one unbreakable thread.
At Charlie’s first house party, “Low” by Cracker blasts from the boom box. During his quieter states of contemplation, college-radio staples like “Could It Be Another Change” by the Samples and “Dear God” by XTC play over his subconscious. The group conducts regular midnight showings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show at their local theater, with Charlie and Sam performing “Touch-a-Touch-a-Touch Me” in their underwear on one memorable occasion. Filler tracks from New Order, the Cocteau Twins, and Sonic Youth also make appearances to further strengthen the film’s early ’90s credibility.
Charlie’s favorite song is”Asleep” by the Smiths–an obscure choice, but also a perfect match for his introverted character. Sam is impressed by Charlie’s taste in music (she counts the Smiths, the Shags, and Nick Drake among her favorites) after he makes her a mixtape to express his unrequited love.
Their bond has an intensely musical component, as certain songs provide the impetus for Charlie to break out of his shell and share treasured moments with her. For example, a rousing chorus of “Come on Eileen” gives Charlie the courage to approach Patrick and Sam at their homecoming dance–and, by allowing himself to let loose and be silly with them, change his life for the better:
Another song that encapsulates the friendship of Charlie, Sam, and Patrick is “Heroes” by David Bowie. After the dance, Charlie goes for a ride in Patrick’s truck and watches as Sam climbs out the top–bracing her body against the wind as they speed down the highway. In the book, the pivotal track on the car radio was “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac. However, Chbosky wanted something more epic for the screen version, and felt that the classic Bowie anthem would be more cinematic.
While fans of the novel might gripe over this substitution, the soft lullaby of “Landslide” is better suited for a scene that doesn’t require such a high-flying rush of adrenaline. Of course, Bowie is the ideal voice for these young misfits: a beacon in the dark to guide them wherever their wild hearts desire.
Various Artists - The Perks of Being a Wallflower tracklist:
- “Could It Be Another Change” (The Samples)
- “Come On Eileen” (Dexy’s Midnight Runners)
- “Tugboat” (Galaxie 500)
- “Temptation” (New Order)
- “Evensong” (The Innocence Mission)
- “Asleep” (The Smiths)
- “Low” (Cracker)
- “Teenage Riot” (Sonic Youth)
- “Dear God” (XTC)
- “Peary-Dewdrops’ Drops” (Cocteau Twins)
- “Charlie’s Last Letter” (Michael Brook)
- “Heroes” (David Bowie)